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Editor's Note: This is the second in a series of columns about startups participating in UpStart, a free entrepreneurship program for women and people of color supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation, or WARF.
One unique aspect of the startup community in Madison that you hear about quite often is the support system. People will go out of their way to help new entrepreneurs get connected to other entrepreneurs and to the resources they need to move their businesses forward.
Alex Miranda Cruz and Noel Miranda told me they would've had a more difficult time launching Bravebird, the filmmaking and video production business they started in 2015 in their hometown of Los Angeles — you know, the one that's home to Hollywood — than here in Madison.
"It's kind of ironic," says Cruz. "I left LA and got back into the industry in Madison."
Among the reasons, say the partners in business and in marriage, are the cost of living, the young talent-for-hire coming out of the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the easy access to learning. The partners recently completed the UpStart entrepreneurial program for women and people of color, and they cite the quality of the curriculum as well as the connections they've made as critical building blocks to their early success.
"I don't feel like I would have any of these opportunities if I were in LA," says Cruz. "Madison's been really good to us."
They've certainly been good for Madison as well, helping clients elevate their brands through a distinctive style of storytelling that emphasizes the dignity and humanity of a product's customers.
"Musicnotes is an example of that, where they hired us to make an ad for their 20th anniversary," says Cruz. "Instead of focusing on the innovation of their app — the sophistication, the technology they use to get music sheets all over the world — they decided to focus on a story that was more on-brand to what they are as a company. It was about the musician."
The video, "You Can Play," went viral, with more than 2 million views to date. Another ad, for Hellenbrand Water Center, won four ADDYs, the Madison area's most prestigious advertising and marketing award.
While Bravebird is a young startup, the concept is rooted in Cruz's early career as a professional actor, beginning at the age of 8.
"I was in it for 15 years," he says. "I was always typecast — stereotyped as a gang member or delinquent or someone who wasn't educated."
Cruz says he's seen positive changes in recent years, for both women and people of color, but says behind the camera there's room for improvement.
Cruz and Miranda's other inspiration for Bravebird was the making of a short film, "Fantasy in D Minor."
"When Alex came to me with the idea of making a short film, we gravitated toward doing it together because we wanted to try out working together," says Miranda.
The creative collaboration was a success, and the self-funded passion project that took two years to make premiered at the 2018 San Luis Obispo International Film Festival, won Best International Short Film at the Oxford Film Festival and was selected in the Short Film Corner at the Cannes Film Festival.
The experience reinforced the couple's dream to build a business together, and they've been busy producing narrative films, documentaries and commercial videos ever since.
The partners say the UpStart experience has helped them gain a better understanding of the business side of Bravebird — project management, legal and accounting issues, value marketing and customer development.
There is no cost to participate. Other free perks include dinner, access to experts in the field, free and discounted memberships to coworking spaces and more.
And, through UpStart partnerships, Cruz and Miranda were selected to participate in Synergy Excelerator, a local business incubator for social entrepreneurs of color.
And that folks, is a wrap.
Brennan Nardi, former editor of Madison Magazine, has been writing and editing in the Madison area for more than 20 years. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.